Ask the experts: Does getting fitter mean less ‘proper’ riding?

“I’m thinking of upping my fitness, but I’m super busy working, riding, looking after the family and all that.

Does getting fitter mean that I have to give up on proper riding time? How do I fit it all in?”

Welcome to our new series – Ask the Experts – your chance to get your questions answered by the brightest brains in biking (or at least, some people we know that know more than us).

First up – we’re talking fitness with fitness guru and WO contributor Ben from MTB Strength Factory.

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Ben says …

This is a really common question and a concern for a lot of people. The basic answer is … no! You don’t need to give up your proper riding time with your mates.

What would be the point of being a really fit mountain biker who never actually goes mountain biking with their friends?!

“The basic answer is … no! You don’t need to give up your proper riding time with your mates.”

The key thing to do here is to try and make the most of the riding and training you already do, whilst having a good look at your week to see if you can fit in a little bit more around work, life and family.

The other main consideration is what you actual goal is for your fitness. To improve your all-day endurance? Your sprint over 10-20 seconds? Push up your lactate threshold for high paced climbs and longer efforts? This will determine what training activities you should squeeze into your existing riding week.

Start with your existing routine.

Starting with your existing riding routine, let’s assume that your main off road ride each week is a few hours on a Sunday morning and home for lunch. If you want to increase your endurance then the simple answer is to get up an hour earlier and bang out a lap or two before meeting your mates. Maybe you’ve got another mate that also wants to get fit that you can team up with?

Starting earlier will always be easier than trying to carry on riding when they all hit the cafe after the ride when you will probably cave in to the peer pressure.


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Make the most of those climbs.

Another example could be wanting to improve your climbing speed and this can also be done on a group ride, it just requires a little bit of discipline and some hard work. Rather than sitting with the group spinning away and chatting crap about plus size tyres you could break the climb up into a series of intervals. Try pushing yourself hard for 5 minutes, riding off the front of the group and then recovering for 3 minutes at a slow pace as they catch you up. Repeat this a few times on each climb throughout the ride. Your mates might take the piss, but your fitness will improve over the weeks if you stick with it.

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Ride what you ride, but harder.

A lot of you might have a ride out on a school night too, often a shorter ride on smaller terrain and with shorter climbs due to the limited time and light. This is a great time to develop your sprint power out of corners and on flat sections of trail that you might normally coast or cruise on.

You can take a similar approach to your Sunday ride, just make sure you have a plan about what you want to do and why. If your local tracks allow it then try and tick off five to ten sprints of 10 seconds over the course of the ride and with a couple of minutes in between. Just make sure you look where you are going as lots of people don’t when they are sprinting! This may mean you have to drop off the back of the group to have space to complete them or alternatively sprint away at the front.

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The ride to work.

The cycle commute is another obvious but sometimes neglected training opportunity. Whilst allowing for traffic and road conditions (be safe kids!) you can add in just the same types of intervals and sprints as on the other rides.

A great idea for use on the commuter bike is to try some over geared starts from traffic lights or junctions. Simply go 3-4 gears higher than normal and try and pedal as hard as you can off the line, developing leg strength and power as part of your daily routine (Note: If the pressure hurts your knees then give this a miss.)

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Squeeze it in where you can.

The final point is to have a look at your week. Are you really that busy? Could you sneak in a gym class on your lunch break? Do you have to drive to work? Once the kids are in bed is there 30 minutes to do some bodyweight training or turbo in the garage before your dinner? If you are really hectic then you may need to look at things at a fortnightly scale. Can you fit in an extra session once every two weeks? That may not sounds like much, but over a year that’s an extra 25 or so rides that can make a real difference to your fitness.

Good luck!

The bottom line is that if you want it enough, then you will find a way to make it work. Just make sure it is sustainable and that you eat and sleep well to support your body under the increased training load.

If you have any questions about training you can message Ben in the comments below or contact him via his website at MTB Strength Factory.